OLYMPIA – Catch quotas for Washington’s recreational halibut fishery may be slightly lower this year, but fishing will start earlier in eastern Puget Sound under seasons announced by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
As in previous years, recreational halibut seasons will be staggered in eastern and western Puget Sound, said Michele Culver, WDFW marine habitat coordinator. Both areas will open five days a week, closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
However, the fishery east of Low Point (marine areas 6-11 and 13) will open April 14 –three weeks earlier than in previous years – and continue through June 20, Culver said.
“Anglers told us that halibut fishing on the east side of Puget Sound is better in early spring, before the fish start migrating out into the Strait of Juan de Fuca,” Culver said. “It made sense to move the opening date up to improve angler success.”
The fishery west of Low Point in the Strait of Juan de Fuca (Marine Area 5) will open May 26 and continue through July 31, she said. Like last year, Hood Canal (Marine Area 12) will be closed to fishing for halibut and a number of other species because of low dissolved-oxygen levels.
Culver said the fishing seasons announced by WDFW are designed around halibut quotas established for the Pacific coast – from Alaska to California – by the International Pacific Halibut Commission.
The coastwide quota of 1.33 million pounds announced by the commission last month is lower than the 1.48 million-pound quota in 2004 but similar to those in previous years, she said. Under that plan, Washington's sport anglers will be allowed to catch 242,579 pounds of halibut compared to 2004 to 278,883 pounds last year.
Culver said the commission based its decision to reduce the catch quota from 2004 levels on studies that indicate the need for a lower harvest rate to protect female fish.
Coastal halibut fisheries are managed on a quota basis, and fisheries remain open until a particular region's quota has been achieved.
Recreational sub-area quotas for 2005 are 64,800 pounds for Puget Sound, 115,437 pounds for the North Coast, 50,146 pounds for the South Coast and 12,196 pounds for the Columbia River. Start dates and quotas for specific coastal areas are as follows:
- Neah Bay/La Push: The fishery will open May 10, five days a week, closed Sundays and Mondays, and continue until an estimated 83,115 pounds are taken. The fishery will reopen June 16 through 18. If sufficient quota remains for an additional day, WDFW will consider reopening the fishery in early August.
- Westport: The fishery will open May 1 and continue until the quota is reached. The offshore fishery will be open five days a week, closed Fridays and Saturdays, through July 1, then open seven days per week. A nearshore fishery in the area from the Queets River south to 47 deg. 00'00" N latitude and east of 124 deg. 40'00" W longitude will be open seven days per week.
- Columbia River area: The fishery opens May 1 and will continue seven days a week until the quota is reached.
There is no minimum size limit for halibut in Marine Areas 1-13, which includes all waters from the Columbia River through Puget Sound. All regions have a one-fish daily bag limit and two halibut possession limit (in any form).
A yelloweye rockfish conservation closure will again be in effect for a portion of the Pacific coast off La Push to reduce the likelihood that halibut anglers will unintentionally catch yelloweye rockfish, which are the focus of a long-term rebuilding plan.
The closed area is defined by the following coordinates in the order listed:
48°18' N. latitude; 125°18' W. longitude;
48°18' N. latitude; 124°59' W. longitude;
48°11' N. latitude; 124°59' W. longitude;
48°11' N. latitude; 125°11' W. longitude;
48°04' N. latitude; 125°11' W. longitude;
48°04' N. latitude; 124°59' W. longitude;
48°00' N. latitude; 124°59' W. longitude;
48°00' N. latitude; 125°18' W. longitude;
and connecting back to 48°18' N. latitude; 125°18' W. longitude.